The Gospel today is not merely a warning against greed, it is an instruction on income and wealth given by Jesus to help us root out greed. As the Gospel opens the problem of greed is presented, and then a prescribed perspective about wealth is offered. Lets take a look at both parts of this gospel.
I. The Problem that is Portrayed – The text begins: Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Note that Jesus turns to the crowd (to avoid personally indicting the man of something of which all can all be guilty), and warns without ambiguity that greed must be guarded against. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. It is to want possessions inordinately, beyond what is reasonable or necessary.
Greed is often downplayed today where accumulation and ostentatious display of wealth is often celebrated. Great rooms with cathedral ceilings, 72″ flat screen TVs and even private home theaters (entertainment centers), fancy cars etc., are shamelessly flaunted.
But greed is at the root of a lot of evils and suffering. Scripture says,
For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:7-10)
Note that these are very strong words. Greed causes us to be discontented and ungrateful, both of which are forms of unhappiness. It also leads us into temptations, into a snare or trap that sets loose the pangs of many harmful desires which seem to expand in ever increasing ways. And this desire for more and more too easily leads us to personal destruction, and to inflict great harm, insensitivity and injustice on others.
On account of greed we almost never say, “I have enough, I will give away the rest or use it for others.” Many also wander from the faith since wealth is generally tied to this world and its demands, and they have “too much to loose.” Hence the faith is set aside in favor of the world, greed overrules God and the demands of the gospel.
The Lord will develop more of this in the parable ahead. But for now note that the Lord warns about the serious and destructive problem of greed. This is the problem that is portrayed.
II. The Perspective that is Prescribed – But the Lord does not simply condemn greed. He next goes on to tell a parable which strives to give a proper perspective about wealth. In itself, wealth is not evil. But without a proper perspective, we too easily fall into greed. Hence the Lord gives five teachings on wealth to help us keep it in perspective and avoid greed.
A. The INITIATION of Wealth – The text says, There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
Notice that the subject of the sentence is the land, not the man. It was the land, not the man who yielded the increase. And hence, whatever we have has come from God and what God has given. Scripture says,
- Deuteronomy 8:18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth
- Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;
- James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
- 1 Cor 4:7 What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
As such wealth is not bad or evil. But, in all our things, we must never forget that God is the true owner and we are the stewards. An old song says, God and God alone created all these things we call our own: From the mighty to the small the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone.
God gives the increase and is the initiator of every blessing, but God remains the owner. And as stewards we are expected to use what belongs to God in accord with what God, the true owner wills. Too easily we forget this and usher in many woes on account of wealth.
And what is the will of God regarding our wealth? The Catechism speaks of God’s will as the “Universal Destination of Goods:”
God gave all the goods of the earth for all the people of the earth. This means that the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race…In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. (Catechism 2402, 2404)
If we will remember that we are stewards of God’s gifts, and that he ultimately intends all to be blessed, we can understand that greed is a form of theft, for it inordinately clings to what should be given to another out of justice. If I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.
Remembering that the initiation of my wealth is God, I can help to avoid greed by using my wealth for the purposes God gave it. It is not just for me, it is for all the people of this earth.
B. The INCONVENIENCE of wealth– the Parable continues, He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?‘
The man sees his wealth and because he does not consider generosity an option, is somehow burdened by it: “What shall I do?” he asks anxiously. To be honest, great wealth brings comfort but it is also a source of inconvenience. Consider just a few things that usually go with wealth: locks, insurance, keys, alarms, storage facilities, worries, fears, repairs, maintenance, upgrades, cleaning, utilities, etc. We live in an affluent age but consider the stress. Consider also the loss of other more important values, we have bigger houses but smaller families, and our McMansions are really more houses than homes.
- Eccl 5:12 The rest of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.
- Prov 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.
- Proverbs 17:1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
- Ecc 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
So, wealth certainly has its comforts, but it also brings with it many inconveniences which make our lives stressful and complicated. Better to be free of great or excessive wealth in accord with God’s will than to be burdened and inconvenienced by it. Here is another perspective that helps us avoid greed.
C. The ILLUSION of wealth- The parable goes on to say, And [the man] said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”‘
And here we are taught that riches easily lead us to an illusion of self sufficiency. We start to rely on self, and on riches, instead of God. But as we shall see the man’s wealth will utterly fail him before the night is out.
Riches can buy us out of temporary troubles, but cannot help with the central problem we face. No amount of money on this earth can postpone our appointment with death and judgment. Riches can get us a first class cabin on the ship, but on the “Titanic” of this earth we are no more set than the people in steerage. Indeed, because of the illusion it creates, wealth will more likely hinder us in our final passage. For it is only in trusting in God that we can make it to the other shore. But too much wealth and self reliance hinders our capacity to call on the Lord and trust him. Yes, wealth tends to create an illusion which cripples us from reaching our goal. Scripture says:
- Ps 49:12 But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
- 1 Tim 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
- Prov 11:28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
- James 1:11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
- Prov 30:8 Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
An old gospel song says, Well the way may not be easy, but you never said it would be. Cause when my way get’s a little too easy you know I tend to stray from thee.
The illusion of riches is well illustrated in the modern age. Our wealth has tended to make us less religious. Less dependent on God. But really, can all our wealth and power, technology and science ultimately save us? We know it can not.
Yet strangely we entertain the illusion of wealth anyway. And we think, like the man in the parable, “Now I’ve got it, now I’m set.” This is an illusion, a set up. And coming to see it for the illusion that it is will help us avoid greed.
D. The INSUFFICIENCY of wealth – But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
And thus we see the illusion give way to the reality of insufficiency. Scripture says,
- Psalm 49:5 There are men who trust in their wealth and boast of the vastness of their riches. But no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end nor avoid coming to the grave. He knows that wise men and fools must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling place from age to age though their names spread wide through the land. In his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beast that perish.
- Mat 16:26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
Money, wealth, power popularity and prestige can never really get us what we need. And it’s not just money, At the end of the day, all this world and all its riches cannot save us. Only God can do this. Here too is another perspective on wealth that helps us avoid greed.
E. The INSTRUCTION about wealth – The parable concludes: Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
As we have already remarked, wealth is not intrinsically evil. It is our greed that is sinful and gets us into trouble. And greed clings to wealth unreasonably and excessively. With greed we “store up treasure for our self and are not rich in what matters to God.”
So, what matters to God? What matters is that we be rich in justice, mercy, love, holiness and truth, that we be generous sharers of the bounty he bestows. And thus the Lord teaches us to generously share what we have over and above what we do not need. Consider the following teachings:
- Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
- Mat 6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
- 1 Tim 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
There is an old saying: “You take it with you.” And this is true, but only partially. The Lord suggests that we can send our wealth on ahead, that we can store it up in heaven, that we can invest it in eternity. How? Do we put our gold in a balloon and float it up? No, we send it up, we send it on ahead by bestowing it on the poor and needy. This can include our children and family members, for Charity begins at home. But it does not end there. Thus our generosity should extend beyond the family to many of the poor.
If we do this the Lord teaches that the poor we bless will welcome us to heaven and speak on our behalf before the judgment seat. The Lord says when we bless the poor our treasure will be great, and safe in heaven. Further, our generosity and mercy will benefit us greatly on the day of judgment and help us, as St. Paul says above, lay hold of the life that is truly life.
So, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.
Therefore, this final teaching or perspective on wealth is to be rich in what matters to God by being generous, not greedy.
And thus we have five teachings on wealth meant to give us perspective, so as to avoid greed.
And trust God! Greed is rooted in fear, but generosity trusts that God will not be outdone in generosity! And while our greatest rewards remain in heaven, God sends “interest payments” even now upon the generous. Scripture says,
- Prov 11:24 One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.A generous man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
- Ecclesiastes 11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you.
- Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give, will be the measure you get back.”
Since you can’t take it with you, you might as well send it on ahead. Guard against greed by allowing these five teachings on wealth to give you a proper perspective on wealth.